Naturalists make a strong case for comprehensive study to save them from extinction

Equipped with unique evolutionary advantages, ground nesting birds used to survive against all odds. But now these bird species are under grave threat that has come in the form of shrinking of their habitation and predatory animals.

Naturalists and ornithologists have made a strong case for a comprehensive study of these species so that they could be saved from extinction.

“We do not have exhaustive data about these birds and there is scope for studying these birds that are facing a threat in many forms. On the one hand, their habitat is shrinking and, on the other, feral dogs and grazing animals are destroying their nests and chicks,” said P. Pramod, senior scientist, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History

In Kanyakumari, a group of naturalists led by S.S. Davidson spotted a good number of these birds incubating eggs in Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts. The birds include Red Wattled Lapwing, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Black-bellied Finch Lark or the Ashy-crowned Finch Lark and Stone Curlew.

“Since they build nests on bare lands they face threats from all sides, even though they possess protective camouflage,” Mr. Davidson said.

Predators such as kite, shikra, monitor lizard and mongoose prey on the eggs and chicks of these birds. The nests on grass lands and near water bodies are trampled upon by domestic animals thronging water bodies.

Mr. Davidson said he and his team spotted Red Wattled Lapwing and Yellow Wattled Lapwing near wetland areas near Koonthankulam in Tirunelveli district.

The nests of Lapwings on a ground depression are often fringed with pebbles, goat or hare droppings. The Lapwings breed in the dry season before monsoon. While nesting, the parent birds often visit nearby water bodies and wet their breast feathers to cool their bodies and the chicks. “The nidifugous young (chicks that leave the nest shortly after hatching) are camouflaged as they forage along with their parents. In the event of any threat, the chicks squat flat on the ground and freeze, as the parents raise alarm calls,” Mr Davidson explained.

Another ground nesting bird is Black-bellied Finch Lark or the Ashy-crowned Finch Lark that inhabits bare grounds and grasslands. The bird with short legs and finch-like beak can never be found perching on trees.

 “The lark makes the nest on the ground, which is a compact, tiny, neatly made saucer like depression under the shelter of a tuft of grass lined with grass and hair with some pebbles arranged on the edge. Both the parents shoulder the responsibility of raising the birds,” Mr Davidson said. Another ground nesting bird is Stone Curlew, whose physical features merge with the colour of the nesting site, an ideal way to masquerade.

Naturalist Ranjit Daniels stressed the need for preserving the nesting sites, by sparing them from planning trees under greening programme.

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